Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Madvocate Blog Has Moved!!

NOTE: The Marketing Advocacy Blog has Moved!

Check us out at our now home:


Monday, April 27, 2009

Top 50 Best Brand Redesigns...And One Of Our Own!

Janine ran across this great blog post from the folks at Function Webdesign. It highlights what they believe to be the top 50 re-designs of major brand logos or icons like the AT&T example above.

Their selections point to a number of stunning examples that fundamentally change the face of a brand such as these:

But then there are also some others that are very subtle but show how a small change can make a big difference...

So I decided to add #51 to their list - selecting a logo redesign we did last year for one of our very own customers - USAN - and very much reflective of this latter grouping. Subtle changes to the logo font and colors combined with a much improved tagline add up to a simple yet powerful redesign...

To see how this was incorporated across the rest of their corporate branding check out the case study on our site or visit


Monday, April 13, 2009

Tapping the Creative Vein

Last few weeks I have been on an incredibly strong creative streak and noticed that the energy has been cutting across disciplines and mutually reinforcing each activity I engage in. From brand campaign ideas to sketching a visual graphics to writing copy or even a song it seems that the inspiration has been coming fast and easy.

And I've been wondering why...

The Creative Process was never something I ever paid much attention to. Usually, when I needed to create a new message, brochure, web page or Powerpoint slide - I just set aside time, immersed myself in the content, and eventually the ideas started to come.

But in the past few months I've become much more aware of the ebb and flow of creative energy and how to manipulate it. I've noticed that when I am creative, it feeds on itself, and I can maintain that energy if I don't stop when I'm done, but instead apply it to another format.

So after writing some good copy, I'll go sit down and play some guitar and jot down some phrases for a song (or just learn to play someone else's). And if I have been thinking about a brand concept and finally come up with a good idea I can turn that energy around to solve some problem around the house that has been nagging me. Or write another blog post.

I creative energy is like an invisible jet stream coursing above my head and once I stand up and "tap into it" I can stay there as long as I keep channeling to into something productive. If I stop, it slips away and I may have trouble finding it again. So far it has lasted several weeks.

To some degree, I feel lucky that I'm able to even find this creative energy, let alone maintain myself in some kind of creative zone for weeks on end. I have had plenty of friends marvel at it and say they just don't have a "creative bone in their body" or they "just aren't the creative type". But the funny thing is, I never thought I was either. And I see plenty of people out there more creative than me.

And I've been astonished to learn there are so many techniques for unleashing creative energy or stimulating the creative process. This wiki here lists almost 200 techniques!!!

Hmmm...maybe someday I'll try a few. But for now I'd rather go play some guitar...


Friday, April 10, 2009

Stanley Milgram - Father of Social Networking Theory?

As a marketeer, I am obviously fascinated by the potential influence of social media on marketing trends and we experiment with ways to integrate these tools into campaigns. But I also find myself drawn to a deeper analysis of why people join social networks in the first place. Why they pick one over another and why some ignore the trend entirely.

It was in exploring this psychology of social networking that I recently discovered the work of Stanley Milgram - a social psychologist who conducted two famous experiments in the 1960s. Both were experiments I had heard of separately. What I had no idea was that the same guy was responsible for them both! And so I think that could qualify Milgram as the "Father of Social Networking Theory".


Milgram's first experiment, called Obedience, involved two subjects - a "learner" and a "tester". The learner would be asked a series of questions and with each answer they got wrong, the tester would apply an electric shock of increasing strength - from 15 volts to a leathal potentially 450 volts! In reality the test was rigged. The "learner" was an actor who faked the wrong answers, faked screams of agony, and pleaded for the tester to stop the experiment. The point was to find out how many testers - average people off the street - would obey the authority of the scientist in charge and continue shocking the learner despite knowing it was wrong and cruel. The result itself was shocking - over 65% of the testers would go on shocking the learners despite their perceived agony.

Milgram was in search of some deeper explanation of social obedience and in particular - its dark side - which can lead to normally rational, well-intentioned people, allowing the seemingly unthinkable (like the Holocoust) to take place and indeed even willingly participating in it. The experiments and various videos of it like this one range from disturbing to oddly humorous. But they do seem to illustrate the role that simple "peer pressure" plays in how we act socially and that very few people can fight it.

It's a Small World After All...
The other experiment Milgram conducted was called the "Small World Phenomenon".

In the experiment, Milgram sent several packages to 160 random people living in Omaha, Nebraska, asking them to forward the package to a friend or acquaintance whom they thought would bring the package closer to a final individual, a stockbroker from Boston, Massachusetts. The letter included this specific condition: "If you do not know the target person on a personal basis, do not try to contact him directly. Instead, mail this folder to a personal acquaintance who is more likely than you to know the target person."

Milgram found that it usually took just six mailings for the package to reach the stockbroker in Boston allowing him to theorize that on average any two people in the United States were just separated by just six acquaintances. That led, of course, to the now popular phrase "six degrees of separation".

Milgram's Law?
So what does it all mean? Well, Milgram died in 1984 (Obedience? Orwell? Irony?) long before we had Facebook, MySpace or even the Internet. But had he lived another 10-15 years I suspect he might have predicted that the natural phenomenon of "social obediance" and a world made even smaller by technology would have led to this. And he might have developed a Milgram's Law that states something like networking technology + small world + obedience = the rapid rise and fall (anyone remember Friedster?) of social media networks.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brotherhood of the Brand

How Smart Grassroots Marketing Revitalized a Fraternity

College fraternities are typically associated with mass inebriation and creative hazing, not smart branding and marketing. But the brothers at the Psi Triton chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa are changing all that and demonstrating once again why I believe the next generation of business leaders will be more serious and savvy marketers...

When I graduated from Hobart College in 1990 Phi Sig was entering decline, and within a few years the fraternity was gone, succumbing to a more aggressive "anti-greek" mentality sweeping the campuses and administrations of many colleges...

Then about four years ago, a new generation of students at Hobart, along with some key alumni, made the effort to restart Psi Triton. Led by former house President Julian LoPresti and current president Andy Fosbrook they decided to re-create Phi Sig as a different kind of fraternity. They astutely recognized the campus community's general distaste for intra-fraternity rivalry and irresponsible antics, and determined that they needed to separate themselves from the clique-driven reputation of fraternities at Hobart (Kappa Sigma = Football Players, Sigma Phi = "deadheads", etc...).

And so they developed and applied a smart set of marketing and branding principals as the foundation of a new fraternity. First they developed a tag line and theme that could be reused in varied ways to build an identity. The line they created was, get this:

"We Are The Change"

It may sound cliched now, but keep in mind - they came up with this message fully 2 years before the Obama campaign kicked off! And the brothers now fondly joke now that Obama ripped off the change slogan from them!

The tag line was applied to T-shirts and posters that were distributed around campus and handed out at events. It has evolved several times since but the core theme of "change" has remained and no doubt benefited from the Obama phenomenon (lucky timing helps turn good marketing into great marketing).

The second thing they did was to dedicated themselves to a set of events and causes atypical of most fraternities. From conceiving and sponsoring the Turkey Trot race (one of the most successful fundraisers ever conducted on the Hobart campus) to their attempts to bring back the legendary Folk Festival on campus this spring, the goal has been to associate the Phi Sigma Kappa brand with every positive, noteworthy event or cause on campus or in the community.

In each case they created posters and t-shirts to promote the events and even arranged for local businesses to "sponsor" the production costs in return for logo placement.  They even chose the personal charity of the College President's wife as beneficiary of the Turkey Trot race winning her gratitude and a plate of fresh baked cookies for the house. Talk about building brand loyalty!

And to demonstrate the depth of their commitment to the community, they have even extended their marketing and branding expertise beyond just their own house, in an attempt to revitalize the image of fraternities overall. In their first year of eligibility, Phi Sigs ran and were elected to senior positions on the Hobart Inter Fraternity Council including the VP position and a newly established "IFC Marketing" position with a healthy budget that will be used to promote the positive aspects of "Greek life" on campus. These guys aren't just building a "company" brand, their promoting an entire "industry" brand.

Beyond the personal gratification of seeing my former fraternity revived and demonstrating real leadership, I think its a great example of back-to-basics marketing and brand advocacy, and I'm captivated by the organic manner in which it evolved among this young generation.

Damn Proud!

Hobart, PSK '90

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Online Imagination in an Offline World

I walked outside today to find my kids and a bunch of others from the neighborhood in the driveway, doing something that astounded me.

They were drawing the "rooms" of a large "house" - a kitchen, bathrooms, a game room, bedrooms (each of which had a flat screen TV) - filling every inch of the driveway.

But the really interesting thing was that each room had a swirled icon. I asked what they were and the kids explained to me the swirls were "portals" or "links" that allowed them to move between rooms.

They had mimicked in chalk & asphalt the digital interfaces and actions they know from popular websites like Webkinz and Poptropica.

It dawned on me that they were imitating and incorporating concepts they knew of only from the online world, and applying them to their physical world rather than the other way around. And I marveled at how this is probably the first generation to do that. They had been exposed to online imagination from such a young enough age that they can integrate them into their offline imaginations.

Here are a few shots...


Game Room
(Note Wii Console on left)

(with Portal icon)

Laundry Room

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How My Cab Fare in Louisville Ended Up In Bangkok

Just spent 2 days in Louisville KY this week. My first ever visit there and it's a pleasant city with a revitalized - if still somewhat sleepy downtown - and a few funky SOHO-like cosmopolitan hotels and restaurants.

But what really stuck with me was my conversation with the cab driver on the way out. He's a 70+ year old widower and tells me he's from Upstate NY (Elmira) originally - and worked for a company that delivered new trucks from manufacturers like PeterBilt, Mack, etc. to customers all over the country.

He moved to Louisville 17 years ago, finished his career there, retired and now lives with his adult son in an apartment. He spends 3 months a year here driving cabs just to save enough money to go to Thailand for the other 9 months of the year where he has a 26 year old wife who's former profession is among the world's oldest.

So I ask him what the impact of the economy has has been on him and he says it's been so slow he'll have to drive his cab for an extra month before he saves enough to go back.

Beyond revealing the somewhat seamy underbelly of the global economy I was amused at seeing how my "taxi" dollars were being routed to Thailand via a cab driver in Louisville KY.

Go figure....